If you’re paying close attention you’ll know that at the moment thousands broke their fast at the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi the other night, a group of us were having a lively debate about what exactly these are. I had already conceded that I had been way off in thinking they were pumpkins; some thought they were Kharbooza melons, which they certainly resemble in size and colour and they definitely have a musky melony whiff about them. But the Kharbooza camp was shouted down by a few who insisted they were ‘Kachri’, a type of gourd. That appeared to be the end of the matter – even the man we’d bought them from called them kachri.
Back home, though, a bit of quality time with Google threw up some startling findings. First, it would appear that ‘Kachri’ are green, resembling a stunted watermelon but eaten as a vegetable. There’s everything you could ever wish to know about ‘Kachri’ here.
Then I remembered a small voice in the group wondering if they were in fact something called ‘Phut’. I couldn’t find very much about Phut except this, Hindi-English dictionary definition. A Phut, according to the Allied Chambers is a ‘species of cucumber resembling a musk melon which splits open on ripening’, from the Hindi verb ‘phutna’, to split. Bingo! This makes sense – when we first saw them on the Old Delhi carts, many of the fruit had completely burst open.
My very knowledgeable friend Sangeeta had more: apparently the ‘Phut’ is very like Lemon Cucumber , which is available in some specialist markets in the US and Europe. Inside, the phut is a little more pink but has the same seeds and thin cucumber skin. While I still had my finger on the Google button, Sangeeta had already whipped up a salad with a dressing of mint, black salt, sugar and lemon. I eventually came across a recipe for a lemon cucumber and tofu salad which I made for lunch yesterday. I was initially put off this by the tofu – I just don’t really get the point of it, all that squishy tastelessnes – but I’m also a very obedient cook: I like to follow recipes to the letter, at least the first time.
The combination of delicately aromatic phut (once you get over the fact that it looks so like juicily ripe pale pink melon but tastes like a mild cucumber), dill, lemon, pine nuts and avocado turned out to be a deliciously refreshing salad to munch on as the monsoon rains lashed down outside. Even the Cavemen took time out from devouring a plate of chicken pieces to make a few appreciative sounds.
The tofu? I’m still not convinced, it certainly didn’t add anything to the flavour, and I pushed most of it to the side of the plate. The rest of it, though, is well worth a repeat. Follow the link to make the tofu version but this is how I’ll be making it next time. If phut, or lemon cucumber aren’t available, ordinary green cucumbers might be nice too.
Phut, Avocado and Beansprout Salad
with a Lemony Dill Dressing
2 ripe phut (they should be slightly tender at either end and giving off a heady, melony aroma), peeled and seeds removed, chopped into quarter inch pieces
1 handful of chopped fresh dill
quarter cup extra virgin olive oil
quarter cup fresh lemon juice
2 big pinches of salt
quarter cup of pine nuts
half a large ripe avocado
100g sprouted mung beans
Mix together the oil, lemon and dill in a bowl and add the phut pieces. Leave to steep for 20 minutes..
Wash the mung beans and arrange on a plate. Lightly toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan.
With a slotted spoon, take the cucumbers out of the dressing into a large bowl, add the avodcado and half the pine nuts. Spoon the mixture over the beansprouts and spoon the lemon dill dressing over.